Drop the Podium

The Duchess dropped me a message just before she came back to Perth. It was a quote from Heng Swee Kiat, the Minister of Education which caught her interest. Interesting meh? Maybe she was considering sending her child back to Singapore for studies? Heh.

We have elite schools, good schools and average schools in Singapore. Everyone knows that, so it is not even an open secret. Our government officials know, for most if not all of them came from one of the elite schools in the country. They know all about that. I doubt any Minister will dare to tell the public that every school is as good as the other and they are all the same. They shouldn't even bother to try because the kiasu Singaporean parents will always emulate their millionaire Minister idols - to send their own kids to the same schools the Ministers send theirs and then hope one day their kids miraculously become a Minister like how Chan Chun Sing, who claimed that he was a product of meritocracy, did.

I admire Heng Swee Keat's vision to make all schools equal in Singapore just like the Finland education system where all parents are assured to send their kids to any school and get the same world class education from another down the street. If Heng knew the real reason behind the strange behavior of Singapore parents, he wouldn't even need to bother transferring principals here and there. All he need is to get his boss to endorse an email and send it down to his colleagues as a directive to ban them from sending their children to the 'usual' schools. Soon, the zombie parents will follow suit. Oh yes, that will work like a charm.

Heng has to understand what it takes for a school to become successful, elite so to speak. He should watch a little football perhaps. From there he'll know that the top 3-4 teams of a major European league will be eligible to compete in an elite competition called the Champions League the next season. All participating team will receive around 10 million upon qualification. Each team will yield at least 1 million per game in the competition and will receive bonuses upon reaching the later stages of the competition. So the further the team advances into the competition, the more money they will win. The grand winner prize money is another 10.5 million. Even the losing finalist rakes in about 6.5 million. With so much additional funds coming to the respective football clubs, on top of revenue from their local league, how can the smaller, weaker competitors ever break their dominance?

The educational system in Singapore is exactly the same situation. Elite school attract societal elites who pump in money via donations or support. The pupils graduate to become the next generation elites and the school forms an elite alumni. Meanwhile, heartland schools may break a gut to create the odd upset in a sport competition here or there but the heartland schools in overall will never come close enough to have a whiff of their elite counterparts. So the big question is: Does Heng's initiative solve this problem? If we get Alex Ferguson, the legendary manager of Manchester United, to manage Oxford United Football Club and get Raddy Avramović our ex-Singapore National Coach to head FC Barcelona and get them to play 100 head to head games, Barcelona will crush Oxford in every single game no matter how much hair dryer treatment Ferguson does in his finest whisky-nose mode.

Mind you, I am not undermining the achievements and greatness of our good principals in Singapore. In fact, I emphasize with them. It must be a gash in their morale if we send the best war winning generals to guard the border because they did so well. They'll be fighting to be second best from here. Or third best if necessary. Everyone will strive to do 'just enough' to siam the arrow. Maybe he should drop the rankings altogether. Without proper access school rankings, it will be difficult for confused zombie hordes to scramble for the obvious sources of brains. Perhaps over time, the divide will be better leveled. Meanwhile, he should type that directive for his elite colleagues first.


  1. IMHO "Every School a Good School" is yet another "sounds good on paper", but "will fail in reality" to change the kiasu, overly competitive, "meritocracy"/elitist Singapore education system.

    Back in the early-1980's, the schools ranking did not "officially" exist during my time as a PSLE holder, yet my heart-lander mom (with ambition to climb the social hierarchy) knew which exactly "elite" schools to send her ace-ing daughters to.

    IMHO, Minister Heng and his PAP colleagues need to think out-of-the-box and look at the bigger picture. [Ironic, since they are supposedly the world's highest-paid civil servants for their "helicopter vision".] The real reason the Finnish education system works is because of their lower "income inequality" -- not my words, but the research conclusion from "The Equality Trust".

    Unless and until the government of Singapore address the issues of rising income inequality in Singapore and the impact of not having "minimum/living wages" legislated and not having better labour protection, parents in Singapore will continue to push their children to "elite" schools. It is simple logic/probability-maths, for it means increasing the chance that their children will have better opportunities/connections in life and/or in the worse case, reduces the chance that their children will end up as "road sweepers" who cannot make ends meet.

    E.g. Decades ago, I went to an interview where the interviewer went "you were from XYZ (i.e. elite secondary school), so was I" and then went "easy" on me for the rest of the interview; and yes, I got the job. E.g. Some who were down on their luck and had friends (i.e former rich/successful schoolmates from their elite schools) paying for their private services (e.g. private tuition to their upper-class kids) until they could move on to other opportunities.

    Policy formulations need to 对阵下药 [literary: "treat the diagnosis with the corresponding medication"], not 治标不治本 [literary: "treat the symptoms, but not the underlying cause"]. So yes, Heng needs to talk to his boss.

  2. Does it mean that some people have got talent and become good footballers. This good footballers will finally join elite clubs and win games. Any no matter how u change the rules of football club, u cannot change this status quo. If nobody can change the fact that u have elite club and ordinary clubs, how can the PAP change the facts the some schools in singapore will be better than others

    1. U must have skipped over his point about funding.

  3. What about the situation in Perth schools?